Eagles need to learn a valuable cornerback lesson before it’s too late

NFL: AUG 12 Preseason – Steelers at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 12: Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Zech McPhearson (27) looks on during the preseason game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 12, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles were absolutely obliterated by the New England Patriots on Thursday night in a 35-0 rout. While context is key and the fact that the Birds were resting many of their starters played a huge part, there were still things to be concerned about, and unfortunately, one was the play of rookie CB Zech McPhearson.

The Texas Tech product played in 65% of defensive snaps on the night but was bullied from the second he stepped onto the field. Lining up on the outside, the fourth-round selection faced much taller wideouts throughout the night, which became an inherent problem. N’Keal Harry (6-4) and Jakobi Myers (6-2) both had their way with the 5-10 cornerback who was targeted early and often by the Patriots cornerbacks. He did notch a pass defense on a two-point conversion, but that was a flash in an otherwise worrying performance.

It wasn’t like McPhearson played particularly badly, he did all he was able to. The problem was that he was put in a spot where he was always doomed to fail…and it’s one the coaching staff should’ve saw coming.

If we turn back the clocks to the beginning of last season, Avonte Maddox was in a similar spot. A shorter cornerback who had made his collegiate living in the slot was being asked to play on the perimeter and it went about as well as expected. Sure, his impressive speed and athleticism kept him in some plays, but allowing 67% of passes to be completed when targeted is never a good look, and going two years without a pick speaks volumes about an experiment that was never going to yield a positive result.

You’d think that with the luxury of Steven Nelson and Darius Slay on the boundary, that the Eagles would keep McPhearson inside to work underneath Maddox, who is in his contract year anyway, creating a natural line of succession. Instead, they’ve spent the Summer working him on the outside, very much repeating history.

Strangely, all reports out of camp have been positive…but on closer inspection, it’s not that shocking at all. Here’s a look at the wideouts McPhearson will have faced up to this point:

Quez Watkins: 6-0
DeVonta Smith: 6-0
Jalen Reagor: 5-11
Travis Fulgham: 6-2 (and having a bad camp)
J.J Arcega-Whiteside: 6-2 (…)

The Eagles have a receiving corps predicated largely on speed. McPhearson is a highly-athletic cornerback who is able to stay in phase deep down field and has the requisite burst to break back on a route. The problem comes in the way of what other teams are fielding.

McPhearson might be a really productive corner around the ball, but if he’s working 10 yards off the ball and defending a curl route against a 6-4 wide receiver, he’s not going to have any chance of making a play. This is exactly what happened to Avonte Maddox.

Drafting Zech McPhearson was a really strong move by Howie Roseman, but you’d think after watching Maddox struggle on the outside for two consecutive years, that they’d have learned their lesson. Here’s to hoping they figure it out before we see deja bu in the secondary.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

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